Soccer fascination is a global phenomenon – how could a relatively simple game like soccer become the most popular sport in the world? From Europe to South America, and from Asia to Africa – wherever you look it’s all soccer. We put our psychological specs on to get to the bottom of this intriguing question.
Why is soccer so big?
If you take TV ratings as a yardstick, the Olympics (and not the soccer World Cup) is the number one sporting event. Why is this? Well, the three most populous countries in the world (China, India and the USA) have not yet really warmed to the game of soccer. For most countries in Europe, South America and Africa, however, soccer is the number one sport. We’re talking a huge combined number of people here, so the World Cup is still the biggest single sporting event. That’s where we are today. But how did soccer become so big in the first place?
A simple game for “the masses”
The special fascination with soccer is also based on its relatively simple set of rules. Of course, there are things like the offside rule and varying degrees of what may be perceived as a tackle (and what’s a foul?), but it doesn’t take much to play soccer. What you need is a ball, a pitch of grass, and a few teammates to kick the ball around. You can play soccer wherever you are in the world. Don’t have goalposts available? Choose a couple of trees, trash cans or just the bags you have with you.
And the simplicity won’t stop there. Think of all the sports you know and how you count points. Rugby, football, cricket and tennis have all different ways of counting points. Even in basketball, you can score points worth two, three or one point, depending on the situation. A goal in soccer always counts the same – whether it’s a tap-in from close range or an artful shot from 40 yards that curls in the top-right corner of the back of the net.
The elusive goal of soccer
High score sheets are rare, and sometimes you have games without a single goal. All popular American sports tend to be considered so entertaining, because the score keeps changing all the time in the course of a game. In soccer, it’s a real rarity. Sometimes a single goal shot in the final minute of extra time decides a game, and on other occasions you watch a very entertaining encounter between two very skillful sides that ends in a scoreless draw.
Soccer is unpredictable
People attend soccer matches, because they don’t know how the game will end. Of course, there are favorites who usually count among the contenders to win the league or a championship, but the underdog tends to have a bigger chance than in most other sports. Games and tournaments don’t always end the way you expect them to end. A look at the European Championship in recent years reveals that dark horses like Portugal, Greece and Denmark were crowned surprise champions against the odds.
The Brazilian national team is usually the top favorite when it comes to winning the World Cup, but it’s been a while since they last won it. And in 2014 – when they were hosting it in Rio de Janeiro – they were the clear favorites when meeting Germany in the semifinal. And they ended up losing that game 1:7 in their own backyard.
The love of soccer runs through families
In Europe, Africa or South America, people usually get introduced to soccer in early days of their childhood. Kids grow up in an environment in which most people are very passionate about the game. A soccer ball is often enough to make a little kid happy, and your dad taking you to the stadium of his favorite club on your sixth birthday is enough to seal a life-long affiliation to a soccer team. You’ll never forget the first time you’re introduced to an atmosphere of tens of thousands of people singing, shouting and cheering. Regardless of the outcome of the game, you’ll be a fan for life thereafter.
Soccer creates identification
But soccer also works as both a motivator and a great equalizer. In poorer countries in particular, the sport offers one of a few opportunities for social advancement. This contributes tremendously to an identification with the game and its stars. Soccer heroes are identification figures for many boys and girls. Players like Neymar, Messi or Mohamed Salah count among the finest of their craft, and a whole country bursts with pride when wallowing in their success. Their success on a world stage of soccer serves as a way of projecting their own wishes and desires. The lives of soccer fans get lifted to unbelievable highs when their stars hit success, and incredible lows if they lose.
But soccer is also an equalizer in the most positive sense. Take the French team, for example. It’s a team consisting of players from all kinds of social and ethnic backgrounds. Looking at the team photo, you wouldn’t tip them to be idols and multi-millionaires surpassing the income of most lawyers and doctors by far. Kylian Mbappé, their star player and one of the hottest assets in world soccer, is the son of Cameroonian immigrants who grew up in the northeastern suburbs of Paris. Had it not been for soccer, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could have reached these incredible heights.
Soccer connects people
Soon there will be another world cup. The stadiums will be filled with fans traveling from all corners of the world, and people in bars and pubs will shout at television screens, unable to contain their emotions. Once again we’ll get the impression of the unifying power of the beautiful game. Almost everyone finds pleasure in experiencing the exhilaration that comes with finding a common ground with a group of like-minded people. The larger a team’s fan base, the stronger the positive experience.
There aren’t many occasions on which you find that kind of distraction from everyday life. The mutual experience of rooting for the same team or country lets us get involved, and we can show our feelings – in public! That’s why soccer is more than just a game for most people, as any moment in those 90 minutes of play can decide over a whole nations victory and defeat. After all, a single goal can be the last and decisive one.
How to create your own soccer fan shirt
Feel like showing some stylish support for your team? It’s easy to create a custom soccer shirt:
- Choose a product with your team’s colors
- Pick a design (e.g. country flag, mascot, etc.)
- Add a slogan to cheer on the team (note: don’t use trademark protected terms)
- Upload images or graphics if you like